Sunday, February 17, 2008

Space Update IV

Astronauts to Return Home and Spy Sat to be Shot Down

Astronauts on board STS-122 will be making their first attempt to return home this coming Wednesday. The mission successfully connected the Columbus laboratory, courtesy of the European Space Agency (ESA), to the International Space Station (ISS). Despite having one astronaut experiencing a brief case of space sickness, the mission was rather uneventful. Columbus has been on the drawing boards since the 1980's, so it was a significant step forward for ESA countries. It experienced futher delays when the Space Shuttle Columbia disentigrated five years ago.

Atlantis's mission is running on schedule, however due to the upcoming attempt by the U.S. Navy to destroy the wayward spy satellite, US 193, the backup runway at Edward's Airforce Base will be up and ready in case weather conditions prohibit the landing of the shuttle at Kennedy Space Center. The Navy will not go through with it's operation until the shuttle is safely on the ground to reduce the risk of encountering debris. The ISS will be well out of the possible range of debris that will be created from the intercept, with most of what remains of the satellite reentering the atmosphere harmlessly in the weeks and perhaps months ahead.

Russia is vocally denouncing the decsion to shoot down the satellite, claiming that the United States military has exterior motives and that the data they will be collecting during the intercept will constitute a weapons test. China is also expressing concern. While I'm usually against the actions of this administration when it comes to their decisions regarding weapons and space, I must say that I'm siding with them on this one.

My reasoning being that while even though I think the threat of the hydrazine fuel onboard the satellite is being overplayed, we have to remember that this satellite is the size of a school bus. Since it is expected to reenter over North America, there stands a decent chance that some debris will strike and damage private property and perhaps life itself. I think that the administration is handling this as responsibly as it can, even offering to pay for any damages that the falling spy sat may cause.

This is under slightly different circumstances than the Chinese anti-satellite test about this time last year. The satellite they destroyed, while disabled, was in a stable orbit.
In the meantime, Russia and China both proposed a new space treaty dealing with space weapons, which the United States has rejected, claiming that it gives an unfair advantage to the Russians and Chinese. The only existing treaty regarding weapons in space is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. However, it was written in the early days of the Space Age, and the times have changed since then. In order for a new treaty to be effective, like anything else, it needs to be brokered by all sides and all sides must be willing to make some concessions.

It is of concern of mine that the Bush administration asserted the right of America to weaponize space. While no recent evidence exists to suggest that the weaponization of space by America is imminent, it is an issue that should be reversed by our next president. Maintaining and clearly defining the extent and range of our weapons is crucial to keeping space a pristine environment that can be used safely by all. 'Star wars' might look cool in the movies, but in reality, they are a threat that no one should want to confront. We are indeed in perhaps one of the more pivitol periods of the Space Age since its inception druing the Cold War.

*Again, spellcheck is not working, I apologize for typos.


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